The Losers Review And More

So I went and saw The Losers a few days ago.  I liked it, a lot.  It is not a great movie, but it is the best kind of goofy fun.  The Losers follows a squad of ex-CIA operatives on their quest out get revenge on the man who betrayed and tried to kill them.  They could have played the revenge story perfectly straight and had a mediocre movie with no reason to recommend it over any other such spy/revenge movie.  Instead, The Losers plays it about a third part to comedy.  It is a big action packed 80’s movie that is aware of how ridiculous everything that going on is.  They don’t exactly wink at the camera, but they still have a lot of fun with the whole thing.  It helps that the movie is very well acted.  They got some really good guys that I don’t think are that well known.  Playing the two central characters, Roque and Clay, are Idris Elba and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who should be household names, and their performances are worth the ticket price alone.  Jason Patric, who plays the villainous Max, plays up his role to absurdly dastardly heights.  He is ridiculous, but he has an air of menace about him that makes him a viable antagonist.   The rest of the cast is almost as good.  Despite the comic nature of the bulk of the movie, the action and personal moments actually work well too.  The jokes come not from usually from the situations, but from the dialogue.   The characters talk and joke like old friends and it really works.  It is both a quality action movie and a comedy, but unlike most action comedies, neither part overwhelms or hinders the other.  The Losers provides more than enough laughs and more than enough explosions, and that seems to be exactly what the movie set out to do.  As pure fun entertainment I can’t recommend The Losers enough.  B+
I also saw Balls of Fury on TV.  I had passed on this when it came out because it frankly did not look to be very good.  I’m not sure I was wrong, because this should be a terrible movie, but somehow instead of being awful it is really funny.  It is not a comedy with tons of hilarious moment, but it maintains a steady flow of humor throughout.  It is never great, but it also never fails to entertain.  It is also less a sports movie pastiche, like Will Ferrell has been making with increasingly diminishing returns, but a kung-fu movie disguised as a sports movie.  Ping-Pong has replaced martial arts as the focus, but it is a kung-fu movie, which I am less familiar with than sports movies, but it somehow works.  The makers seemed to recognize the stupidity of everything in this movie and turned it from a weakness to a strength.  Christopher Walken plays it as though his character only barely wants to be involved, and the protagonist Randy Daytona never stops being an over the hill loser.  Even George Lopez turns in an entertaining performance.  In no way is this a great movie, but its worth watching on a slow Saturday.  B-

25 Years of NES Part 2: Life Force

Life Force

The second game in my 25-part retrospective on the Nintendo Entertainment System is about Life Force. I expect everyone recognized the game covered in the first part, but Life Force is much more obscure. Despite is lack of notoriety this is one of the great games on the NES. Life Force is a scrolling shooter, a spin-off of the much more well-know Gradius series that features both horizontal and vertical stages. Among the many things Life Force takes from Gradius is the use of the Vic Viper, the ship that is always used in Gradius and the same upgrade system. Also like Gradius Life Force is awesome.

Life Force began as a Japanese Arcade game called Salamander that when it came time to bring it over to the US they changed it considerable, making it about flying through a giant monster. They also changed the name to Life Force. Then when is cam time to release it for the Famicom, the Japanese equivalent of the NES, they based it on a mix of Life Force and Salamander calling it Salamander. Then it came back over as NES game the name was again Life Force. Outside of its convoluted origins, Life Force has some notable elements. One of the most important parts of a shmup, as these scrolling shooters are called, is the power up system. Life Force uses the Gradius power-up system, where the player collects power-ups and uses them on the ability needed. First is speed up, which makes the ship move faster and is essential to avoiding some of the obstacles. The next slot is missile. That causes missiles to fire from the top and bottom of the ship that hit hard to get too enemies. The next is pulse, which changes the normal shot to a wavy beam. After that is laser, which makes the shot a powerful beam. The last is option. Option gives the player a little drone that fires along with the player. Also, you can have a pair of them and catch them when you die. This power-up system is pretty great because turn the once vulnerable ship into an unstoppable little God. The only problem is that if you die you lose all of those powers and have to collect all of the power-ups again.  Which after the early parts of a level is almost impossible to do.

And die you will, at least at first.  This game is difficult.  Difficult in ways that are not in vogue in the current video game market.  It is not the players twitch skills that need to be honed to beat this game, but the player needs to memorize enemy patterns and level layouts.  In places, if the player does not already know what is coming then there is no way to avoid death.  And once one death hits, due to the building nature of power-ups, more will follow.  There is a reason that that sort of false challenge has been weeded out of gaming; it’s just not fun.  But it is not intolerable in Life Force.  Twitch skills can take you fairly far in this game and just paying attention is all the memorization necessary.  With a few hours of practice, the average player should be able to clear at least the first two levels fairly easily.  The difficulty of also offset by the use of the famous Konami code to give the player thirty lives.  This is also a great tool for learning the stages so you can beat the game legitimately.  One important thing does not contribute to the difficulty: the controls.  The ship feels sluggish at first, but with a few speed-ups, you’ll be zipping around the screen like a pro, then a couple more and you‘ll zip into a wall.

The levels display what is the best part of Life Force:  the crazy stage subjects.  In what only makes since in the context of NES games, and in fact is one the best things about the NES, the player will fly all over the place with no real sense of connection between the stages.  One level looks like the insides of some giant monster, the next you are shooting giant jumping Moai heads.  It’s the brilliant surrealism that made the NES great.  The first stage in this game looks very much like a living creature.  The stage walls and the enemies all seem very organic.  The enemies look like blood cells and the boss is a giant brain.  After that, you go to a simple canyon, now scrolling vertically instead of horizontally, into a military installation of sorts with s robot/flying machine boss.  The third stage is a sun or some such thing, with fire and flaming birds and dragons all over the place.  Then its through a body again, but this time vertically. Then horizontally through some canyons and pyramids with Pharaoh head boss.  The last boss appears to be a planet with  a giant snake curling around it.  All of this rendered in beautiful 8-bits.  The sheer insane variety of stages and enemies is one of the best parts of the game.

Most important to the greatness of Life Force is that it is just plain fun.  You die not being angry that you were killed, but wanting to make another attempt.  Before you know it, you’ve wasted five hours and the game is still a joy to play.  It is pure gaming that can only be found on the NES.

pictures from vgmuseum

Top 5 Friday #1

Top 5 Friday is a new feature of my fledgling blog. Every Friday, hopefully, I will post a list of my top 5 favorite or least favorite somethings.  The subject is very much going to change around.  Today I am doing my 5 favorite DC superheroes, because I’ve mostly dome Futurama on this blog so far and I want to do some thing about superheroes.  Next week I might do my 5 favorite Marvel Superheroes, but not necessarily.  And that list would be pretty boring with 4 entries about Thor and 1 about Beta Ray Bill (Space Thor) I might do my 5 least favorite athletes ever or 5 favorite movies, who knows.  But I plan to have a top 5 up every week.

My Top 5 Favorite DC Superheroes

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Futurama Episode 7

My Three Suns

My Three Suns is possibly my favorite episode of Futurama.  It has a good balance of characters and some of Fry’s best lines in the series.  This is the quintessential Futurama episode.  All of the shows best traits are present in this episode.  After some down to earth stuff the Planet Express crews goes on a mission to an alien world where they have a hilarious adventure.  It has equal parts Sci-Fi adventure and character comedy.  The episode also has good stories for all of the main character; none of them gets the full focus.  It is about how the characters react to their foreign surroundings and the outrageous situations they find themselves in.
This episode begins with Bender watching cooking shows, but is interrupted by Hermes telling him he needs to do some work to keep his job.  So Bender decides to become the ships cook.  On a trip into town to get supplies, Fry shows his gullibility and Bender his lack of concern over ingredients.  When the get back they find they have a delivery.  In his first attempt at cooking Bender goes crazily heavy on the salt, even in the water and everyone hates it.  He goes to deliver the package, but is so thirsty from the meal that he drinks a bottle of mysterious blue liquid.  He is soon accosted by some watery guards who claim that he has drunk the emperor.  By the laws of their land Fry is now the emperor.  When the rest of the crew arrive Leela berates him about his recklessness, but Fry ignores her and appoints Bender as his Prime Minister.  During the celebrations for the new Emperor, Leela discovers that the emperors have extremely short reigns due to frequent assassinations.  Fry ignores her various warnings and she leaves to go back to the ship.  Fry then recites the inaugural oath.  Just as he finishes the suns go down and the planets inhabitant begin to glow, including the emperor who is still in Fry’s stomach.  Realizing that their Emperor is still alive, they attack Fry and pals to rescue him.  The Planet Express crew barricades themselves in the throne room and tries to think of ways to get the Emperor out of Fry’s body.  They call Leela for help, but she reluctantly agrees.  On her way there she is attacked by the water people.  Bender tells Fry she is dead, and he starts to cry out the Emperor.  But Leela arrives and Fry stops crying.  So the crew takes turns beating Fry until he cries the Emperor out completely.
This is some classic funny television.  Fry is dumb, Bender is greedy, and Leela is responsible but frustrated by the stupidity and greed of her companions.  Zoidberg is a terrible doctor.  All of these stock jokes are at their best in this episode.  I love how this episode starts as a Bender episode with a Fry b-story, but halfway through drops the Bender story and focuses on Fry.  Bender’s story only takes half the episode to conclude, he is a bad cook there is nothing else.  Fry’s quick acceptance of the emperor’s throne and his moronically brilliant parable of “The Grasshopper and the Octopus” is some of the funniest stuff ever animated.  Zoidberg’s centrifuge idea to get the old Emperor out of Fry is the perfect illustration of his incompetence.  Bender’s has his attempt at being the ship’s cook fail horribly.  And Leela tries to keep the rest in line and in the end gets to take her anger out on Fry to his benefit.  The whole episode just flows together perfectly.  This is just one of the best episodes of any television show, ever.

Unfortunate Situation

I was watching the NFL Draft earlier tonight and I was disappointed to see Tim Tebow drafted by the Denver Broncos.  Not because I think it was a bad pick, though I do think it was a little early, but because I really wanted to root for Tebow.  And I hate the Broncos.  Not as much as I did now that Elway and Shannahan are gone, but I still don’t like them.  They are one of those sports teams that I will never root for, like the Cowboys and Patriots or the Lakers in the NBA or the Cardinals in baseball.  Due to this animosity, gained during my formative years as a Chiefs fan, I can never bring myself to root for Denver.  I just flat do not like the Broncos.  I also am not a fan of Florida.  There is no reason behind it, its not like I am a fan of one of their rivals, but I generally do not root for Florida.   But Tim Tebow I like.  I did not want to like him.  I watched him play wanting to hate him.  i wanted him to be the villain.  Yes, I consider some athletes villains, not usually because anything they have done, but because they play for teams I do not like.  But everything I’ve ever heard about Tebow makes him seem like such a great guy that I can’t help but want to root for him.   But he had to go and get drafted by the Broncos, a team I can never root for.  I guess my only hope is that things do not work out for him there and he is traded to a team i do like, or a least have no feelings about.

Note:  Tomorrow, or later today I guess, I should have another Futurama review up and my entry into what should become a regular feature here:  Top 5 Friday.

Futurama Episode 5

Note:  Before I begin today I want to make readers aware that I am now adding a rating system to these reviews.  At first I wanted the written review to stand alone, but upon consideration I have decided that for purposes of keeping track of which episodes I liked and which I loved I will rate them.  The rating system is:  Bad, which means I did not like the episode much, Good, which means that enjoyed but did not really love it, Great being a particularly good episode and Classic, a rating to be given only to select truly unforgettable episodes.  Yes,  realize that three of these are good ratings, but I am reviewing show that I love so I do like most of the episodes.  If I start reviewing shows I do not particularly care for than I will add more bad ratings.

Fear of a Bot Planet